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possible. >> tonight, new evidence in a case that's still a cliff-hanger. >> it's baffling to me. >> he awoke to a real-life nightmare, a crime he swears he didn't commit. >> i have nothing to do with this case. >> he and a friend arrested for murder one halloween night. there were fingerprints, footprints, strands of hair, but here's the thing. none of it matched theirs. so why on earth are they in prison? wait till you see what happened in court. >> i lied and said i remember things i didn't remember. i basically told my soul to save myself. >> now we put you in that courtroom. you decide who's telling the truth. >> every single detail of this case needs to come out because there's been too mh hidden for o long. >> new witnesses bring a new chance. >> i'd like to have forgiveness. >> will there be a new outcome? >> i'm going to get out of here. i'm going to prove my innocence.
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>> i'm lester holt, and this is "dateline." tonight, the mystery, "under a killing moon." here's keith morrison. >> reporter: in the dark is where things like this happen. in the dark where the truth could be hard to see. hard to see, maybe, even when they turn on the lights. >> it was devastating, really, because everything you believed in, everything you love has been taken from you for no reason. >> reporter: this is the story of a man stuck in anotheman's blackest nightmare, of freedom snatched away on the strength of a dream. but now also it's become the amazing story of what happened here ithis remarkable courtroom in the heart of america. the fight here to uphold truth, find justice and perhaps undo a drdful lie.
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>> i don't want to die knowing that i did the wrong thing. >> reporter: this is the dreamer. his name is chuck erickson. >> i couldn't remember that night. >> reporter: and this the subject, or should we say, casualty of his dream. his name is ryan ferguson. perhaps you've heard about his story. we've told it right here on "dateline." but what's happened since, what's happened changes everything. you can see it in motion here at this rarest of legal happening. as our tortured dreamer relis the bizarre tale that began that strange, dark, confusing night. >> i couldn't remember going home. i couldn't remember leaving the club. >> reporter: the club. yes. that's where it all began. so puzzling. the events of that night back in 2001. a rare full moon on halloween, a college town, columbia, missouri, ryan ferguson and
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chuck erickson both at 17 considerably underage had gained entry to a college bar, a hangout named -- >> by george. >> reporter: by george. >> we showed up at the club, got in, started dancing, having a good time. >> reporter: that's pretty young to be able to get into a club. >> ts a college town, a university. it's the way people live in college towns. everybody wants to be in the mix, hang out. >> reporter: it was ryan's older sister, kelly, who helped sneak them in. >> i remember seeing ryan and chuck one time in there. and ryan was talking to a flamingo-dressed girl who was very tall. they seemed to be having lots of fun. >> reporter: outside raucous music carried through empty streets till closing time, 1:30 a.m. 2:00 a.m., four blocks away, it was quitting time at the local paper, "the columbia daily tribune." and the deadline for rookie sports writer michael boyd. that's your deadline. >> that's the deadline tgo. >> reporter: boyd walked in the parking lot, encountered his boss, the revered sports editor,
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kent. as they talked, boyd says, they both saw, of all things on halloween night, a stray cat. >> the cat was clawing his tire. >> reporter: clawing his tire if. >> clawing his tire like a scratching post. >> reporter: then boyd remembers they said good night. and it was perhaps ten minutes later, 2:26 a.m., when two night janitors called 911. >> 911, what is your emergency? >> we need someone here at "the columbia daily tribune." >> what's going on? >> there's somebody hurt outside. >> reporter: and "the columbia daily tribune" was suddenly the center of the deadliest story in town. >> the sports editor, kent, is laying in a pool on the ground. looks like he's been shot or something. >> reporter: kent was dead, murdered in the newspaper parking lot. they called him heidi, and he was huge, literally, big man, big presence at the paper, well liked around town. reporter boyd said he found out in the middle of the night and returned from home in time to
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see his boss's body still in the parking lot. >> that was just awful. seeing him lying there. you're just, like -- i don't know. i'm sorry. >> reporter: he wasn't shot. somebody hit him hard on the black of his head with a blunt i instrument. and investigators found fingerprints on that car and in his hands, strands of hair which he must surely have pulled from the head of his killer. and something else police don't often have in a crime like this, suspects described by one of the janitors in that 911 call. >> who did you see? >> two guys in the area. >> white or black? >> white. i'd say 19, 20. >> can you remember any kind of description at all on these guys? >> i don't. well, they were close to 6 feet. thin. one of them had blond hair, really, really short blond hair. >> reporter: the other janitor,
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the woman, said she saw the young men briefly duck behind a car, then walk away out of the parking lot and toward the university. not far from the bar where teens like ryan were partying. the search in the dorm, though, turned up nothing. ditto for this composite sketch based on the janitor's descriptions. police were left with only a theory. the two students, maybe college kids, young, white-skinned men, set up on kent, belligerent halloween revelers and were interrupted by two night janitors. >> at columbia, i don't think anybody could ha gten around and not heard about it. >> reporter: now all police had to do was find out who those two young men were. never imagining for a moment the bizarre tale that would reel them in. >> as our story unfolds tonight, you're going to see some startling new developments in this case. the quest for justice is not over yet.
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but first when we come back, pay close attention because you're about to hear two very different stories of what happened that night. one from chuck erickson. and another from ryan ferguson. >> i was, like, oh, my goodness, this is absurd. >> which one is telling the truth? when "under a killing moon" continues. last christmas? around the fire place. i have no idea. going up the stairs. how do you figure that out? spools and spools! we don't know exactly how much garland. don't worry, lowe's automatically tracks and stores all of your lowe's purchases so you can get that same great look again this year. i think it's wonderful. yea, that is awesome. yay! [ male announcer ] we scan. mylowe's remembers. your life gets easier. mylowe's, sign up in your lowe's store today. lowe's. never stop improving. mylowe's, sign up in your lowe's store today. we need to leave our contract plan and make the move tom. net10 wireless. what??? oh nice, let's just have our calls drop all the time. net10 uses the same cell towers as the top carriers,
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halloween murder of newspaper man kent heitl petered out almost as it began here this
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the very idea a murderer on the loose, pretty unsettling, said ryan ferguson's mother, leslie. >> when you live in a town and there's been a murder and they don't know who committed the murder, you're wondering, you know, is this person still out there? >> reporter: but as one halloween gave way to the next, life got back to normal, for the teenagers, anyway. >> it was completely disconnected from my life. it had absolutely nothing to do with anything i knew or anyone i knew. >> reporter: ryan ferguson and chuck erickson finished high school and moved on. ryan to college in kansas city, chuck to a somewhat life of booze and drugs in columbia. but by then the two had long since drifted apart. and anyway, said ryan, chuck was never really part of his group of friends in the first place. >> you could say that he was definitely on the outside looking in. he was just doing things that our group didn't really get into, you know, causing problems, more or less. >> reporter: and then two years
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after the murder, he ran into chuck at a new year's eve party. and chuck asked him a very odd question. >> he says, hey, man. you remember hanging out on halloween a couple years back going to the club? yeah. he says, do you know if i had anything to do with that crime that was committed against this guy who was killed? and at that point, you know, i'm kind of freaked out. it's night. i'm outside. it's past midnight. and this guy was talking about do i know if he's involved in a murder? >> reporter: it had to be chuck's idea of a morbid joke, ryan decided, but it wasn't. and of course, ryan couldn't know that chuck was telling other friends about this weird dreamlike notion he was having, that he might have been involved in the murder. and a couple of months later late at night, somebody called 911. an anonymous tip. >> you know the reporter at "the tribune" that was murded and no one found out who it was? >> uh-huh.
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>> i know what happened and i know the murderer. >> reporter: the 911 caller didn't give his name. but agreed to meet the police and tell them how an acquaintance named chuck erickson was telling people he thought he might have committed a murder. and just like that, a dead case came roaring back to life. naturally, police called erickson in for a chat. and at first he was very hesitant, seemed confused, said he might have just blacked out and started imagining things. >> so far, i could just be sitting here fabricating all this. like i don't know. i don't. >> reporter: but by the end of it, he admitted everything. >> where did you hit him at? >> the head. >> in the head with? >> a wrench. >> now, did he go down immediately? >> i -- i don't think so. i think that he kind of staggered. >> did you see blood coming from him? >> yeah. >> okay. >> reporter: it made perfect sense. a fair-skinned teenager who matched the suspect's description and had been out drinking at a college bar just a few blocks from the newspaper.
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the night the killing moon loomed overhead. just one problem. remember the night janitors saw two young men in the parking lot. and the police traced two sets of bloody footprints. chuck's admission had to be only half of the equation. police needed to know, who was s accomplice, and that's when he named the person he said was with him. ryan ferguson. >> i remember seeing ryan hovering over this guy. i think i asked him if he was dead. ryan said yeah, he's dead. >> reporter: why would ryan and chuck want to harm anyone that night, much less a popular newspaper man they didn't know from adam. money, said chuck. they needed to rob someone to get money to buy more drinks. >> so you guys run out of money. >> yeah. i think we were leaving. >> was this at closing time? >> this was before that. >> okay. >> reporter: miles away in kansas city, even as chuck was telling his story, it was a
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sunny spring afternoon. ryan was driving home from class. and was puzzled at first, he said, when the police pulled him over. what happened when you got to the police department? >> they tell me they're arresting me on suspicion of a murder. and at that point i'm just like oh, my goodness. this is absurd. >> reporter: ryan told detectives he left the bar with chuck at closing time, dropped chuck off at his house, then went home and went to bed. but even as he sat here in an interrogation room denying he had anything to do with the murder, the news of his arrest was on tv. >> there is a big break tonight in the murder of former columbia tribune sports edir kent heitholt. >> reporter: ryan's mother found out from a friend who had been watching the news. >> my first reaction was just -- i just said, i think i laughed. i said, well, it's not our ryan. it has to be another ryan fergus ferguson. >> reporter: impossible. sweet, loving, lovable ryan.
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not a violent bone in that boy's body, his father bill said. >> he just didn't have that sort of a mentality. all of a sudden for him to be accused of a heinous murder is beyond comprehension. >> reporter: and now -- >> you have the right to remain silent. >> reporter: ryan ferguson was charged with murder. and his old buddy chuck was ready to tell the world why ryan should spend the rest of his life in prison. coming up -- >> i've got tell them what that man did. >> what exactly did he do? later, you'll see new evidence and new witnesses that call that into question. >> they walked straight to the car and drove away. >> when "dateline" continues. start with all the fresh salad and warm breadsticks you want. choose an appetizer made for sharing. then two delicious entrees from five of our favorites. classics like eggplant parmagiana. or new favorites like smoked mozzarella chicken. three courses, two people, just $25 but only for a limited time.
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it was almost halloween again. the third since the full moon murder of kent heitholt in the newspaper parking lot. waiting to be tried for murder. based on what his old buddy claimed was a memory recovered in a dream, a bizarre sort of you didn't know what you had done? >> absolutely not. absolutely not. >> reporter: you're pretty sure of that memory of yours. >> absolutely. no doubt in my -- i know exactly what i did that night. >> reporter: it was the trial of the decade in columbia, missouri. but only ryan was on trial. chuck erickson copped a plea in e e ex-change for a reduced sentence of 25 years. in court he presented himself as
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a young man in such pain, he repressed his traumatic memory for more than two years. >> it was hard after dealing with it by myself and not thinking about it for two years, and then i'm sitting down here, and it's all just rushing at me. my god, i killed this man. >> reporter: or at least he said he assaulted kent heitholt, hit him with a tire tool from ryan's car, intended just to rob him for drink money and head back to the bar. then he reenacted what ryan did once he was helpless and on the ground. >> he was on his back. and he was pulling up on his belt like this. >> i don't know. >> reporter: any flicker of the hesitance he displayed during his interrogation was gone, replaced with righteous conviction. >> i've got to go to prison for the rest of my life. i've got to tell them what that man did. >> reporter: the prosecutor didn't present dna or fingerprint evidence linking him
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to the scene but perhaps he didn't have to because he had chuck, and he had this man. his name -- >> jerry trump. >> reporter: you might want to remember that name. jerry trump is one of the janitors who called 911 the night of the murder, the man who reported seeing two young men lurking near the victim's car. >> they were close to 6 feet, thin. >> reporter: now, in court. >> would you point to that individual or individuals, please. >> yes. >> reporter: fingered by an eyewitness, accused by a former friend. ryan pleaded with the jury, don't believe a word of it. >> did you go to "the tribune" parking lot? >> no. >> did you see kent heitholt anywhere? >> no. >> did you have any contact with kent heitholt whatsoever? >> no. >> did you participate in this murder? >> no. >> reporter: the accusation, said ryan, was plain crazy. not a shred of physical evidence put him there. the bloody if the prints were not his size. and police didn't find any trace
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of blood in his car. the whole trial, a huge mistake. he was innocent. >> i never thought i'd be arrested for a crime i didn't commit. would you? would you believe you'd be arrested for a crime you didn't commit? >> i didn't commit one. >> neither did i. >> reporter: ryan's supporters in the courtroom clearly believed him, but the jury? it was a friday evening when they left the court, and that same friday evening when they came back. >> as to count 1, we the jury find defendant ryan william ferguson guilty of murder in the second-degree. >> reporter: guilty of mder and robbery. he was sentenced to 40 years. kent heitholt's daughter was relieved. >> i don't want people to remember he was a murder victim, and i'm glad that nally i can remember him as just my dad and someone that was loved by everyone. >> reporter: heitholt's paper put the story to bed perhaps for good, but it was a struggle, of course, for ryan's family.
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convicted murderer, son and brother. and kelly, the indulgent sister who sneaked him into a bar, wrestled with debilitating remorse. >> of course, i feel very guilty because not only was he down there because of me, but i also got him into a bar underage. it just looks really bad. >> you almost feel like you're stepping back from yourself. >> yeah. >> and you're watching other people, yourselves, going through this because it can't really be your life. it can't be you going through this. >> reporter: how do you get over a thing like that? >> you don't get over it. you get busy. that's what we do. we're not er it. we're just busy. >> reporter: the ferguson family, especially father, bill, went on radio, tv, anywhere people would listen to insist that ryan was not a murderer. >> our son's innocent, and we just want to free him as soon as possible. >> reporter: but more than that, bill decided there must be somewhere evidence to the
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contrary if only he could find it. one little piece of information could break the whole thing? >> oh, it could make a big difference. >> reporter: it was often nighttime when bill ferguson wandered through columbia's downtown, returning to the neighborhood where the murder happened, puzzling out clues. what is it about this place at tells you your son didn't do it? >> well, it's not so much this place, it's what happened at this place. the bar closed at 1:30. >> reporter: didn't the jury notice the time didn't add up, bill wondered? why would ryan and chuck commit a murder and robbery after 2:00 a.m. to go back to a bar that had been closed for an hour? and there was something else that kept nagging at bill, that 911 call the night of the murder. >> we need someone here at "the daily tribune." >> reporter: only the male janitor identified ryan. what about the woman on the 911 tape? she testified, too, but on the stand she wasn't asked to point out ryan. >> i became very suspicious. i'm saying wait a second. she's the witness. >> reporter: bill tracked her down, brought her back here to
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the very place she was standing the night of the murder. >> and i said, so the person you saw, the person you did the composite of, was that ryan ferguson? she goes, no, that was not. i go, was it chuck erickson? no, it was not. >> reporter: shefgs sure of that? >> she was absolutely sure. >> reporter: bill thought this was a huge discovery, and he started gathering other new evidence, too. but would it be enough to convince a judge his son deserved a new trial? as bill was about to find out, once a jury has found a person guilty of murder, undoing that verdict can seem, can be close to impossible. >> but no one in this case was about to give up. least of all, ryan and his family. when we come back, a new defense team and a new twist. a letter that might change everything. >> my eyes were just racing because i thought oh, my god, he's retelling the story, but now ryan's not the killer. >> when "under a killing moon" continues. experts in aroma. they're the world championship cheese judges.
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you're 21. long idle days in concrete that's a lot of time. >> reporter: while friends were graduating from college, starting their careers, ryan waited for news from his father's investigation and
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battled to spare when that new evidence failed to win his freedom. his family had pursued appeal after appeal in attempts to get his conviction overturned, all rejected. bill had found several new witnesses, but all of their stories were deemed not credible. if you have to serve that, you come out a senior citizen if you're still alive. >> unfortunately. but at the end of the day, you never know what's going to happen. >> reporter: well, you don't, do you? and, as it turned out, the case was catniped for an attorney named kathleen zellner who looked carefully at ryan's story and believed. what made you think this person definitely is innocent? >> it was really ryan. it was really my interaction with him. there was just no sign of any deception. >> reporter: zellner has won the release of more than a dozen men wrongfully convict of murder and rape she was honored just this year th the american bar association's pursuit of justice
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award. but this case? she had never seen anything like it because in this strange case, she thought there were two innocent men, ryan and chuck, his accuser. a confused young man, but not a killer. >> what was put on at this trial was a completely fabricated case. and the reason it worked was because the jury could not understand why someone would confess to a crime they didn't commit and then take a 25-year sentce. >> reporter: remember, none of the fingerprints, dna, hair, footprints of the scene matched either ryan or chuck. and she saw no evidence at all to back up the theory of a robbery gone bad. >> ryan ferguson has $20 in his wallet and a credit card. why would he be leaving the bar and attack the biggest guy in town to take a timex watch and his car keys?
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the reason those items were taken is they've got the killer's prints and probably touched dna on them. that's why the person took them. because it's fighting. it's hand-to-hand combat. it has nothing to do with the robbery. >> reporter: zellner had just begun building her case, looking for new evidence, alternative suspects, when a gift arrived, the sort of thing an attorney can only dream about. it was a letter, not to her, to ryan ferguson. >> i get this letter, and it's from charles erickson. i'm, like, what could this possibly say? it basically just says, send an attorney and don't tell anybody that you're doing it. >> reporter: send an attorney to see him? >> yeah. >> reporter: don't tell anybody? >> yeah, don't tell the media. >> reporter: what did chuck erickson want with a lawyer? didn't take long to find out. when kathleen and her law partner arrived for their meeting with chuck, he handed them a piece of paper. it was a statement in his own handwriting. >> i looked at it, and my eyes were just racing because i
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thought oh, my god, he's retelling the story, but now ryan's not the killer. >> things happened much differently than i had previously stated. >> reporter: chuck said he lied, lied about so many things, big and small. but his biggest lie, he said, was the one in which he said ryan was the killer. >> i made up what i said about ryan being on top of the victim. >> reporter: no. in this telling, chuck said it was he, not ryan, who turned the robbery mission into a murder. he who stronglied kent heitholt with the belt while ryan stood by. >> are you saying today that you are the sole murderer of kent heitholt? >> that's correct, yes. >> reporter: it must have been a great day for you, i would think. >> it was but i know how much work it is to undo these things. to me, it was just the first step. >> reporter: and it was puzzling, too. because zellner was absolutely convinced that neither chuck nor ryan was ever anywhere near the murder. she and ryan believed chuck was
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still confused. >> it shows the reality that he doesn't know what happened that night. and he's trying to put these things together. >> reporter: but was it enough? ryan's dad, bill ferguson, physically carried the new information to the courthouse. and maybe that day the fergusons' luck turned because the court decided there would be a special hearing at which chuck's new story and any new evidence collected by ryan's attorney would be considered. what's your hope this week? >> this week i hope that the judge will evaluate the information, that they'll exonerate ryan. >> reporter: in april of 2012, after 8 years and 33 days behind bars, ryan ferguson, handcuffed and shackled, shuffled into a courtroom. was he prepared? the evening before talking with us, he had been wearing his optimism on his sleeve, like armor. >> i want to make my life great when i get out, and i'm going to be ready for it. i feel like i've been preparing
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for eight years to live life. coming up -- >> i lied and said i remembered things i didn't remember. >> chuck erickson is back on the stand, but he's not the only one who's changed his story. >> i'd like to have forgiveness from ryan. and his family. >> when "dateline" continues. dad: hello! mom: hi!
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the more you know. ♪ >> reporter: there are moments in state old buildings as new and electric as quivering nerves. which is how it was in the spring of 2012 here in the historic county court house jefferson city missouri. ryan ferguson waiting for a a former friend to tell the
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truth. >> i would expect chuck mostly to testify to the fact that he lied on the stand. and i think you know he is a a troubled man who has no idea what he did that night. >> reporter: for days in a a hotel room down the street attorney kathleen zellner and her teen had literally been living with the evidence they believe would exonerate ryan ferguson. >> i think that knowing that someone as young as ryan ferguson is completely innocent and such a good person is in a completely fabricated case. keeps you up at night. >> reporter: maybe because the hurdle for overturning a a conviction is very, very high. zellner would have to prove ryan's actual innocence using only evidence that was not known at the time of ryan's trial. >> ryan ferguson is actually innocent of the murder of kent heithold. >> reporter: to prove ryan was
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gone from the neighborhood whe the murder occurred his attorney called this new witness who said she remembered seeing ryan and chuck leave the bar in ryan's car at closing time -- 1:30 just as ryan had always claimed.ryan's car at closing time, 1:30, just as ryan had always claimed. >> after they said good-bye, they walked straight to the car and got in it and drove away. >> reporter: zellner also called that reporter, michael boyd. she didn't exactly accuse boud of anything but wanted to get him on the record of two things, that police failed to investigate him and that his own story put him with heitholt exactly at or very nr the time of the murder. >> and at no point do you submit dna? >> no, ma'am. >> okay. and no one checks either of your cars, is that right? >> that's right, no one. >> reporter: boyd never was and is not now a suspect and told
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"dateline" he did not commit the crime. but boyd wasn't the centerpiece of the hearing. this man was. chuck erickson who here in this room for the first time since the trial came face to face with the man he put in prison. >> this testimony that he made up during the trial took my life and, you know, is crazy to believe that, you know, his testimony now could give my life back. >> reporter: in his most recent videotaped statement, remember chuck took responsibility for the murder but still said ryan had been there. what will he say this time? >> do you remember killing mr. heitholt? >> no. i never have. >> reporter: as he spoke, it became perfectly clear, his story had changed. again. now chuck was saying he has no memory at all of what he and ryan did halloween night after they left the bar. and more important, he never did remember.
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>> i lied and said i remembered things i didn't remember and said he did stuff that i don't remember him doing or me doing. >> reporter: how can he not know? >> yeah. >> reporter: committing a murder, how can you not know? >> that is a very baffling thing to myself and everyone, i think. he was asleep that night, and i dropped him off at home. >> reporter: why should anybody believe chuck now versus then? >> that is a good question. i think to believe chuck erickson now or at any point in time, you need to look at the evolution of this story. >> reporter: in fact, in court, attorney zellner replayed the interrogation video to prove chuck's new story really wasn't new at all. it was exactly what chuck told those policemen the very first time he talked to them. >> it's just so foggy. like i could just be sitting here fabricating all this and not know. like i don't kw. >> reporter: so chuck's
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confession, said zellner, was pure fiction. a confused young man parroting back information an overzealous interrogator fed him. just one example, the murder weapon. >> and he was pulling up on the belt. >> reporter: so confident during the trial it was a belt. but during his interrogation, he seemed to have no idea. so they told him. >> no, i think it was a shirt or something. >> well, i know it wasn't a shirt. >> like maybe a bungee cord, something from his car. i don't see why he'd have a rope in his car. >> well, we know for a fact that his belt was ripped off of his pants. >> really. >> did you see a belt in ryan's hand, something that looked like a rope or a bungee cord? >> i don't know. >> okay. >> reporter: and when his memory continued to be foggy -- >> now, you'd better start thinking very clearly. >> okay. >> because it's you that is on this chopping block.
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>> okay. >> am i clear? >> yes. >> to you? >> yes. >> reporter: why did you play that little piece of interrogation? >> because it shows the tremendous pressure he was under. when charles erickson has explained, i don't have a memory of this, i don't want to hear any of that, it's basically you're going to have a memory of it. i'm going to tell you what the memory is. i mean, he's right in his face. >> reporter: so, said zellner, the story chuck is telling now that his memory is and was blank is the only one that makes any sense. >> if you had not been involved in the murder, why did you want to interject yourself into the murder? >> i -- i mean, at the time, i was thinking that, you know, i was blacked out, you know. i was a couple blocks away. the picture in the paper looks like me. somebody's saying i'm a murderer. >> reporter: she told the judge she didn't want his mistake to take away ryan's life, too. >> i don't want to die, you know, knowing that i did the
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>> reporter: but would the judge believe chuck's latest story? attorney zellner knew chuck was not exactly credible. so she had one more card ready to play. quite literally, the trump card. remember that night janitor at the newspaper, the man who pointed an accusing finger at ryanuring his 2005 trial, jerry trump? >> yes. >> reporter: now zellner asks trump a simple question. how in heaven's name was he able to conclusively identify ryan as the young man he saw in an unlit parking lot years earlier? here it came, a startling accusation. jerry trump said he was just doing what he thought e prosecutor wanted. >> he said, we're fairly sure we have the two guys that killed mr. heitholt, and we need you to identify them. and he was pointing to a newspaper at that time. >> reporter: and so when trump pointed at ryan, said "he's the
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guy," it was a lie. >> and when you pointed to ryan ferguson in the courtroom and you said, that's the person you saw at the columbia tribune parking lot, was that true or false? >> false. >> so are you testifying with the understanding that by telling this testimony, you could be charged with perjury? >> yes, i am. >> do you anticipate or want anything for doing this? >> yes. i'd like to have forgiveness from ryan. and his family. >> reporter: the prosecutor in question creaategorically denie his trump. said he didn't want anyone else to lie, but the moment was so compelling that ryan's attorney said she had no further questions, let the emotion hang in the air for a moment while the state waited patiently to tear the latest version of chuck
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erickson's story apart. coming up -- >> i'm sorry, what was that? you didn't remember it being a murder? >> stirring arguments from the prosecutor. and then -- >> this could be it. >> this could be it, yeah. >> a dramatic ruling from the judge. and coming up next friday on "dateline," "a shot in the dark." they were maied six days. then came that horrible night. >> a black shadow. that's literally all i saw. >> a masked man, she told police, burst in and shot her new husband. >> i put my hands on his face and i told him i loved him. >> so here's the question. why was she suddenly under scrutiny? >> the detective asked me if i killed my husband,nd i said no. >> what really did happen? the truth was far stranger than anyone knew. ♪
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what you will see this week is a series of evolving lies. >> reporter: ryan ferguson's hearing here in columbia, missouri, was nothing, if not dramatic. here the two key witnesses who put ryan in prison told the judge they lied when they help convict him of murder. anboth of them told the judge they understood very well they could now be penalized heavily for having committed perjury. >> i'm possibly facing the rest
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of my life in prison, and that's something that i accept. and maybe, you know, i deserve that for life because i basically sold my soul to save myself. and maybe that's what i deserve. >> reporter: so did the state stand up, admit an error and send everybody home? no, it certainly did not. instead the assistant attorney general told the judge that chuck's latest story that he had no memory at all of what happened the night of the murder was preposterous. >> i'm sorry, what was that? you didn't remember it being a murder? >> iidn't remember committing a murder. i thought that i had done it because, you know, i blacked out. >> reporter: only reason chuck changed his story, said the assistant a.g., was that he figured if ryan went free, he might get out of prison, too. >> you're saying you have a willingness to say anything you need to say to get ryan out? >> at the time i did.
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am i telling you the truth now? i'm telling the truth now. do i expect you to believe it? no. >> reporter: which chuck should they believe, the one who said ryan chucked heitholt or the story now trying to prove his friend's innocence? ryan had high hopes. >> these people have subjected themselves to life in prison for coming forward and telling the truth. >> reporter: yeah. >> and that truth is i had nothing to do with this case. >> reporter: now he waited. one month, two, four, six months, he counted from his prison cell. he began to make plans to go into business with his father, to travel to florida with his mother, to spend time with a new girlfriend he had been corresponding with in prison. and then it was halloween again. 11th anniversary of kent heitholt's murder. ryan was in his cell. a guard came to see him. >> they called me back there and said i had an attorney phone call. >> reporter: an attorney phone call. >> yes. >> reporter: this could be it.
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>> this could be it. >> reporter: right then what was it like? >> i couldn't even really think. i just had to put, like, one foot ahead of the other. that was it. because, you know, i couldn't really hear anything. i was just, you know, my heart was beating. the anticipation was so great that it kind of canceled out everything else. and then i got on the phone with my attorney. and the first thing she says is, you know, i've got a bit of bad news. and basically, i didn't hear anything after that. >> reporter: the judge denied ryan ferguson's request to have his conviction overturned. >> i'm trying to hear what she was saying, but it's almost incomprehensible. i mean, it felt like a dream. >> reporter: in his ruling, the judge said chuck was completely fabricating the stories he told at the hearing. he didn't believe his story about having no memory. said chuck was far more certain and specific at trial. as for the janitor, jerry trump, the judge was convinced that jerry trump committed perjury at the initial trial, lied about
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seeing ryan, but he said it's unlikely it would have changed the jury's decision had they known the truth. >> a judge has denied convicted killer ryan ferguson a new trial. >> reporter: and in the same way he found out his son had been arrested for murder, bill ferguson learned ryan's fate from a reporter. >> and she says, oh, i just want to know if you want to make a comment on judge green's ruling. and i'm thinking, what? what ruling? and she goes, well, you know, he just -- oh -- oh, my god, you don't know, do you? i go, no. >> that was it. >> yeah. >> finally i got ahold of my dad. you know, he was trying to hold it together, but even his voice cracked, you know. and that was -- i don't know. it was the worst sound i've ever heard in my life. it was the most difficult i've probably ever heard.
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>> reporter: and then you were locked down. >> yeah. it's just at that moment you feel so empty and so alone and hopeless, you know. >> reporter: kent heithol trk's family has all along opposed ryan's attempts to overturn his conviction. ryan's attorney has by no means given up. she said the judge's ruling is perplexing because it's riddled with contradictions and factual errors. and she says she'll bring the case to the supreme court if that's what it takes. >> it is frustrating to have something so incredible happen where people are willing to come forward and admit they lied and then have a judge reject that. but thank goodness he doesn't have the last word in this. >> reporter: just this week, ryan's family got busy again. they put up a billboard here in town trying to track down the real witness, the mystery witness, the janitor spotted in the parking lot that fateful halloween of 2001.
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>> you wait and see. we're going to get a lot of good information out of this. >> reporter: and deep inside the state prison, ryan ferguson counts the days. are you allowing yourself, as you did before this hearing, to imagine, you know, next week, next month, next year what i'll do on the outside? >> it's a long way away right now, but yeah, i do imagine it. you know. i have an amazing family, an amazing girl in my life, and i really look forward to being able to live with them and spend time with them. i think, you know, when i do get out, we'll all do amazing things together. you know, i live for that. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline." we'll be back again next friday
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at 10:00/9:00 central and i'll see you tomorrow on "today." at 10:00/9:00 central and i'll see you tomorrow on "today." i'm lyou won't take my life. you won't take our future. aids affects us all. even babies. chevron is working to stop mother-to-child transmission. our employees and their families are part of the fight. and we're winning. at chevron nigeria, we haven't had a reported case in 12 years. aids is strong. aids is strong. but we are stronger. and aids... ♪ aids is going to lose. aids is going to lose. ♪ shaw and the stanford cardinal on being the 2012 pac-12 >> 2012 champions!

Dateline NBC
NBC November 30, 2012 10:00pm-11:00pm PST

News/Business. Keith Morrison, Josh Mankiewicz, Hoda Kotb. (2012) A man and his family fight accusations that he committed a murder on Halloween night. New. (CC) (Stereo)

TOPIC FREQUENCY Ryan Ferguson 19, Chuck Erickson 12, Zellner 10, Jerry Trump 6, Boyd 5, Columbia 4, Ho 3, Missouri 3, Us 3, Congress 2, Kent 2, Kansas City 2, America 2, Geico 2, Ferguson 2, Bill Ferguson 2, Kathleen Zellner 2, Chuck 2, Campbell 2, Charles Erickson 2
Network NBC
Duration 01:00:00
Scanned in San Francisco, CA, USA
Source Comcast Cable
Tuner Channel 88 (609 MHz)
Video Codec mpeg2video
Audio Cocec ac3
Pixel width 1920
Pixel height 1080
Sponsor Internet Archive
Audio/Visual sound, color

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on 12/1/2012